As I mentioned before, and as Steve mentioned, we are concerned about the significant fees, not just in relation to citizenship registration but more broadly. However, as the Bill is focused on EEA nationals, there is an opportunity here to tackle citizenship registration fees, which are more than £1,000 per child. That makes it prohibitive for many families to be able to acquire those rights, which may be in the child’s best interests. The EU settlement scheme will apply to many children, but it may not be in the child’s best interests to have EU settled status because citizenship provides for greater protection.
We really welcome the Government waiving the fees for the EU settlement scheme. That will help a lot of families for sure, particularly given the levels of poverty among EEA nationals and families, but the risk is that the costs will then be shifted on to other areas. I think there is a real concern in the sector about what happens come April, when the fees normally go up. That is one of the issues that is highlighted with the fees—that there is very little scrutiny and oversight around fee regulation, which is one of our concerns going forward with this kind of approach. For instance, there was no children’s rights impact assessment on fees, including for looked-after children, which you asked about.
There is not currently a waiver for citizenship fees, so local authorities are having to pick up the bill. Interestingly, the issue of the EU settlement scheme came up at the Home Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday. One of the things that was flagged up in that session and in the beta testing review report is that, for the local authorities involved in that second phase of testing, quite a lot of them—although the numbers are not given, and we would urge the Committee to ask questions about that—said that in many cases, children did not have their original passports, which would be the first stumbling block for the EU settlement scheme. Of course, local authorities are going to have to think about not only settling children’s status but settling their citizenship, because as corporate parents, they have to act in the best interests of the child, as any other parent would. That will often mean for that child to apply for citizenship rather than for the EU settlement scheme.